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War Declared on Sharks After Recent Attacks

7 comments War Declared on Sharks After Recent Attacks


NOTE: This is a guest blog post from Ryan Kempster, a marine neuroecologist (sensory biologist) from the Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia and founder of the shark conservation group Support Our Sharks. Ryan is currently completing his PhD research into the electrosensory capabilities of sharks and their relatives with the ultimate goal of refining and improving electrical repellent devices to better protect people in the water. You can learn more about Ryan and his research at www.ryankempster.com.

In Western Australia (WA), politicians and members of the public are calling for a shark cull in response to the state’s recent shark attack fatalities.

The most recent of these attacks was on a diver off the north coast of Rottnest Island on October 22. The other, involving a body-boarder, took place at Bunker Bay on September 4, and a disappearance at Cottesloe Beach on October 10 has also been attributed to a shark.

The proposed cull is a misguided attempt by politicians to protect beachgoers from potential attack. But is this the best way to deal with an animal whose natural environment we invade by the thousands every day? No; and this is why we are looking for your support to oppose such an ill-advised action by the WA government.

How many people are killed by sharks each year?

Although the Australian media continue to sensationalize the threat of shark attacks to swimmers, the statistics do not support these claims.

According to the Australian Shark Attack File (ASAF), sharks have killed 52 people in the past 50 years (1.04 per year) in Australian waters. Figures range from zero to three in a year (data correct as of October 24, 2011).

There’s no denying that each of these attacks is, of course, a tragedy. But the number of attacks is negligible when you consider the vast and increasing number of swimmers entering our coastal waters every year.

Are there more shark attacks?

Thousands more swimmers take to our beaches every year as the WA population and tourism continue to rise, so we might expect a corresponding rise in shark attacks. However, numbers of fatal shark attacks remain the same and within the expected yearly variation. Therefore, the number of fatal attacks in WA, per capita, is actually declining.

The number of shark attacks has nothing to do with how many sharks are in the water but everything to do with how many people are in the water.

Sensationalized reports will have us believe there are rogue “man eating” sharks patrolling the waters, with shark attacks on the increase.

But even if we consider the recent disappearance of a swimmer at Cottesloe beach as a shark attack (although unconfirmed), then in reality there have only been three fatal attacks in WA in the past 12 months.

The prime suspect implicated in all of these attacks is the species responsible for most fatal attacks, the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias). Since it was declared a vulnerable species in the late 1990s, there have been anecdotal reports that shark numbers have increased. Some say this is the cause of the recent shark attacks in WA.

Dr. Charlie Huveneers, a white shark researcher at Flinders University and the South Australian Research and Development Institute’s (SARDI) Aquatic Sciences division, told me:

“There is no scientific evidence to suggest that the short time period between these attacks is a reflection of an increase [in the] population size of white sharks.

“It could simply be related to the seasonal fluctuation of the number of white sharks within specific areas and that white sharks might naturally be more often occurring around the populated Western Australian coastline at this time of the year.”

Sharks are more use alive than dead

At this time, many people seem ready to begin a shark cull in a misguided attempt to feel more protected and to get revenge for the recent attacks. But we must keep a clear head and consider why sharks are in need of protection in the first place.

Most sharks serve as top predators of the marine food pyramid, playing a critical role in our ocean ecosystems. Directly or indirectly, they regulate the natural balance of these ecosystems, and are an integral part of them. Removing sharks from our ocean ecosystems is very likely to be ecologically and economically devastating.

Sharks are constantly misrepresented in the media as vengeful, deliberate predators of humans. It is, of course, nonsense. We must not allow this negative fictional image to form the basis of state or national policy.

Revenge is not a meaningful strategy on which to base policy nor is it worthy of an educated nation such as Australia.

Support shark conservation in Australia and oppose a cull by signing the petition to stop the shark culling in Australia.


For more information:

Interview with Barry Bruce on ABC’s 7.30
Support Our Sharks
Scientists lead call to end shark hunt
Shark experts petition parliament over cull


Related Stories:

Success! Toronto Bans Shark Fin Products

Shocking! 2,000 Sharks Massacred For Their Fins in Colombian Territory

Breaking News: The End of Shark Finning In California!


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+ add your own
5:36PM PDT on Nov 1, 2011

Could it be that oil disasters such as the Gulf; over fishing and over population have reduced the food supplies for sharks and other apex predators overall? Could that be why we are seeing more attacks. Most attacks are by young sharks inquisitively experimenting as youngsters do to see what is edible. Of course there are certain sharks such as the Bull shark that are unpredictable and can get fairly ornery; but so can any shark, great whites and tigers included. Mind you I wouldn't want to be in the middle of a feeding frenzy where white tips are involved either.

5:23PM PDT on Nov 1, 2011

Petition signed, thank you.

5:22PM PDT on Nov 1, 2011

I feel very sorry for those who have been attacked by a shark, but declaring a war on sharks is an overreaction in my opinion. Nevertheless I hope; one day eventually all animals will be left all by them selves, when us humans finnally disappear as a result of wars, hatred, jelousy and so many "adorable" things we do.That's when they will have a chance to live in peace, because there will not be us anymore. Amen

5:16PM PDT on Nov 1, 2011

Thank you.

4:59PM PDT on Nov 1, 2011

it is a strange world we live in

4:49PM PDT on Nov 1, 2011

sharks...the one thing that kills less than terrorists...and we declare a war on it too....

4:44PM PDT on Nov 1, 2011

Dear Australia,
You know why the sharks are attacking? They recently heard the human population reached 7 billion. It's called people culling. Get used to it. You threaten their homes, and they'll threaten your lives. You've done this to them, taking their food, taking their fins, warming their waters. And now you think KILLING them will teach those wayward sharks to bite people. YAH! That'll show 'em whose boss! This "proposed cull" is nothing but a green signal to the rest of the world that killing sharks is okay. This is yet another way to make money off dwindling shark numbers. Is Japan/China/Costa Rica paying you now? Maybe you saw opportunity for sharks to be the bad guys and threw some chum in the water yourselves? Absolutely disgusting!

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